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Experts decry lack of political leadership in integrating health into climate change action

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Scientists in Africa have raised concerns over the pressing weak political commitment,  Scientific Evidence and inadequate financing as some of the challenges moving forward with climate change and health nexus.

Speaking during a webinar by the USAID-funded Building Capacity for Integrated Family planning (FP) and Reproductive Health (RH) and Population, Environment and Development (PED) Action (BUILD) Project, Prof Brame Kone, the technical Officer in charge of Climate Change and Health at the Africa regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO/AFRO) in Congo Brazzaville said Africa still misses a political leadership to take the health agenda forward.

The BUILD Project Webinar focused on ‘Prioritizing Health in Climate Change Action in Africa’ .

“A good example is the recently concluded African Climate Summit (ACS) whose Nairobi Declaration had a very weak commitment on matters of climate change and health nexus,” said Kone.

“Climate crisis is first and foremost a health crisis and this needs to be understood and funds need to be made available to tackle this challenge,” adds Kone.

Noting the emergence of lethal strains of disease-causing pathogens amid shifts in climate patterns, Kone said African governments should intensify climate action at the community level to minimize deaths and pressure on health facilities.

Mainstreaming climate action in national health policy frameworks, combined with political goodwill, innovative financing, research, and innovations, will be key to enhancing the resilience of Africa’s public health systems amid disruptions linked to extreme weather events.

This is the reason why, according to Prof Kone, the loss and damage fund at Conference of Parties (COP28) needs to be more agile and flexible to address climate change adaptation emergencies.

However, Leah Aoko from African Research Impact Network (ARIN), the Nairobi Declaration badly reflects on the African Heads of State and Government who continues to have health as a low priority area despite is linkage with the climate crisis.

“Our preliminary analysis of the Nairobi Declaration coming out from the first African  Climate Summit held from 4-6 September in Kenya’s capital city, show that Africa has an opportunity to strengthen the health systems to make them resilient to the impacts of climate change, taking cognisance of the devastating effects of floods in Libya,” she said.

In addition, Prof Kone said the continent still lacks scientific evidence to support advocacy efforts towards integrating health in climate change discourses and action.

“We still have weak knowledge on scientific evidence in tackling climate change and health nexus in the African region, a lot of things are known but we still need to build more strong and relevant scientific evidence and use them for adaptation,” said Kone.

He said much has been done on climate change alone; carbon sequestration, mitigation and others, but when it comes to adaptation and the need to build the nexus between health and climate change, much still needs to be done.

According to Melvine Otieno, founder of Planetary health Eastern Africa Hub and Lecturer at the University of Eldoret, Western Kenya, there is a great opportunity for the communities to be able to understand the linkages of the prevailing climate change impacts and the health systems because from one or two interviews conducted at community level, it was observed that there is inadequate understanding of how climate change and health interplays and the meaningful interventions that need to be put in place.

Otieno added that the vulnerable communities only understand that when flooding happens, displacement is the only effect of climate change but are oblivious of such effects as diseases that come along with flooding and malnutrition when there are prolonged droughts.

According to studies by the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC), the Africa region contributes to a relatively small percentage of global gas emissions compared to other regions like Asia, Europe and North America.

The IPCCC says Africa accounts for approximately 4 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes.

The moderator of the Webinar, Dr Bernard Onyango,  Senior Research and Policy Analyst and BUILD Project PED Director, African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP) said the BUILD Project brings together southern leadership and organizations from Africa, Asia, and the USA that, together, have proven technical expertise in promoting cross-sectoral interventions in Population-Environment-Development (PED) and in advocating for voluntary family planning (FP) and capacity strengthening.

He said the consortium partners in the BUILD Project include United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP), Leadership for Environment and Development Southern and Eastern Africa (LEAD SEA), PATH Foundation Philippines Inc (PFPI), FHI360, and the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA).

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